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DB and Siemens present autonomous train; ATO over ETCS

Deutsche Bahn (DB) and Siemens Mobility have developed what they say is the world’s first train that operates by itself in rail traffic. Dr. Richard Lutz, CEO of DB, and Dr. Roland Busch, CEO of Siemens AG, together with Dr. Peter Tschentscher, Mayor of Hamburg, presented the train as it made its premiere run as part of the Digital S-Bahn Hamburg project.


The train is controlled by digital technology and is fully automated. The driver remains on the train to supervise the journey with passengers on board. Shunting, such as turning the train around, is done without on-board personnel. The project partners DB, Siemens Mobility, and the City of Hamburg have invested a total of €60 million in the digital S-Bahn Hamburg, which is part of DB’s Digital Rail Germany project.

Today we’re experiencing the true turn of an era: The railroad has arrived in the digital future and Digital Rail Germany has become a reality. With automated rail operations, we can offer our passengers a significantly expanded, more reliable and therefore improved service – without having to lay a single kilometer of new track. It is our goal to make rail transport attractive to ever-larger numbers of people, which is the only way we can achieve the mobility transition.

—Dr. Richard Lutz, CEO of DB

We are making rail transport more intelligent. Trains drive the perfect timetable automatically, accurate to the second and energy-optimized. This way, we are supporting our partner Deutsche Bahn in its goal of making train travel more attractive and protecting the climate. With our technology, our customers can transport up to 30 percent more passengers, significantly improve punctuality and save more than 30 percent energy. The digital S-Bahn Hamburg marks a world premiere. The new technology has already been officially approved and, since it features open interfaces, can immediately be used by operators worldwide for all types of trains.

—Dr. Roland Busch, CEO of Siemens AG

The digital S-Bahn had its premiere run at the opening of the Intelligent Transport Systems World Congress (ITS) in Hamburg. During the congress, four digital S-Bahn trains will operate automatically along the 23-kilometer section of S-Bahn Line 21 between the Berliner Tor and Bergedorf/Aumühle stations.

The technological foundation for highly automated operation is the future European standard ATO over ETCS. ATO (Automatic Train Operation) works closely with the radio-based ETCS (European Train Control System) Level 2. ETCS ensures safe adherence to headways and monitors speed. ATO controls the train’s traction system and brakes. Control is transmitted via radio signals, and data is sent between the trains and the block control center.

One of the main advantages of ATO over ETCS is the increase in rail network efficiency due to shorter headways. Information on the current traffic situation is continuously transmitted to the trains via radio. By adapting to this information, a train can run more efficiently, with an optimal speed profile and fewer braking operations.


The four digital S-Bahn trains in Hamburg will provide regular scheduled passenger service beginning in December. Plans to digitalize Hamburg’s S-Bahn entire system by the end of the decade are already under way, and investments in trains and infrastructure are being made. The technology is projected to be used nationwide for regional and mainline rail systems.


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